Connecting to prior knowledge

Before showing the book cover, ask students to brainstorm what the title Desert Lake means to them. Prompt by asking: How could something be a desert and a lake?

Invite students to sketch their representations and then, preferably using the big book edition, read through the whole book.

Re-read making particular note of how the desert becomes a lake and vice versa.

Cultural understandings of the site that link to the title of the book

Pause to explore the Arabana people, who are the Indigenous people of the region.

Background information for the teacher can be found here on page 561. In summary, part of how the Arabana people understand water is by its absence. In contemporary terms, this means that there are many sites that are ‘water’ sites, but which at present have no water in them. There are two types of ‘absent’ sites – firstly, there are sites where living memory charts a change in water flow: ‘when I was growing up this used to flow over and gush down like waterfall, no more now…’ (Marree Respondent 1 2015, cited in Nursey-Bray and the Arabana Corporation 2015). The absence of water in these cases is usually attributed to current impacts such as mining or due to seasonal and climate variability.

The other type of ‘absent’ water sites are those regions that are culturally significant, but which are water sites from millennia past. For example, ‘we were taken to ‘waterless’ sites, which were areas that had numerous shell fossils and other fossils reflecting pre-existence of a marine environment. In these areas there were many cultural artefacts such as grinding stones, also indicating “long dure” Arabana existence‘ (Nursey-Bray et al. 2013).

Hence, current important water sites for the Arabana people also comprise of areas where water was, but is no longer, both in living and traditional memory.

Australian Landmarks with Aboriginal and European Place Names 

The desert lake in this book has two names. Kati Thanda is the Aboriginal name and Lake Eyre is the name given by European explorers. Kati Thanda was recognised in 2013.

  • Invite students to identify other natural landmarks with Aboriginal and European place names e.g. Uluru/Ayres Rock, Kata Tjuta/The OlgasPurnululu/Bungle Bungle Range, Kakadu and others. Locate these, including Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, on a map of Australia.
  • Discuss the idea of sacred sites and special places for Indigenous peoples. The closure of Uluru for climbing in 2019 might be discussed briefly.
  • In small groups, have students sketch or visually represent some of the landmarks onto paper then cut out and attach to maps of Australia (alternatively, a large map could be used to which each group attaches one landmark). Label each landmark with the Aboriginal and European names. (Although neither book clearly references Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, use Are We There Yet? by Alison Lester and To the Top End: Our Trip Across Australia by Roland Harvey as springboards.)

(ACELT1608)   (EN3-3A)


Exploring the text in context of our community, school and ‘me’

Salt, water, evaporation and heat 

After reading about the evaporation of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, students may be interested in emulating the effect of how evaporation could effect a local pond or waterway, as stimulated by the following activities:

  • Water Cycle Brainstorm: Identify and view photographs or visit a local pond or lake (or other waterway). Keeping their local waterway in mind, students imagine and brainstorm what could happen to it if it is moved to a desert environment such as where Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre is situated, facing extreme heat, evaporation and salty water. This demonstrates part of the water cycle. While the website is designed for older students, a diagram can be viewed at the Greenhub website, in the Water for Life section, page 6.
  • Salt Crust Experiment: Students re-read the description of the salt crust on page 27 of Desert Lake. To understand what the salt crust is and to replicate it, students complete the following experiment. Dissolve table salt (or baking soda) in water. Heap onto baking paper on a tray or plate. Allow time for the water to evaporate. Observe what is left after the water evaporates (the salt crust). Students could repeat with two samples: one pile of salt dissolved in water on a tray placed in the sun or a heat lamp, the other placed on a tray in the shade. Compare the different results.

Retain these so students can use the salt crust to help form models of the lake in the Responding section of this unit.
(ACELY1699)   (EN3-8D)


Rich assessment task

Visit Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre

  •  Ask students to imagine they have the opportunity to visit Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre. On the map of Australia used for the earlier activity on Australian landmarks, ask students to label their school or closest city or regional centre. Students draw a line to link their locality with Kati Thanda- Lake Eyre.
  • Spend a few minutes looking at photographs and images of Kati Thanda, which may add some curiosity about the lake.
  • In pairs, students plan what they will do when they arrive at Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre. Ask them to focus on the book Desert Lake for ideas, but they can also use the additional resources provided at the More Resources section located below (press the More Resources button). For their visit, they decide if the lake will be a desert, a lake or both. When they arrive and during their time there, they could set up a tent, go for a walk, look at the salt crust or search for the plants and creatures seen in Desert Lake. They could take photographs and sketch what they observe. Students can document their ‘visit’ by making a comic of three or six panels, using Comic Creator or other comic software.

Optional: Students could use bitmoji avatars to place themselves at Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre and show what they are doing there.
(ACELY1704)   (EN3-2A)

Responding to the text

Do whole class shared readings of the picture books Drought and Flood by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley. As a whole class students discuss their responses.

Ask students to focus on and think about ‘dry and wet’ and ‘drought and flood’ in a subsequent re-reading of Desert Lake.  

Again as a whole class, invite students to talk about their memories and experiences of dry times and possible drought or water restrictions, and times of rain and possible flood.

Invite aesthetic and emotional responses to the written and illustrative text in Desert Lake by asking students to:

  • list some written extracts from the book that they find pleasing (aesthetic) and others that make them feel something (emotion). For example, ‘Far, far away, pelicans lift into the sky’ could give a poetic sense of anticipation and wonder (aesthetic); ‘but the pelicans don’t come in years when the lake is dry’ could give a sense of loss (emotion).
  • sketch thumbnail pictures of illustrations they find aesthetically pleasing, and illustrations that give them an emotional reaction or make them feel something.

In small groups students then explain how these words and illustrations from the book attracted or pleased them and how they made them feel.

Prompt students to speak in a way to show their emotion, considering tone, pace, pitch and volume. They may incorporate dramatic movement or gesture.
(ACELA1502)   (EN3-1A)


Exploring plot, character, setting and theme

Students view the Behind the News video of the lake to gain an extended overview and different perspective.

Lake and Lake Life: Models of the lake 

To focus on the setting and the creatures in and around the lake, invite students to replicate the two ‘faces’ of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre as models in two sand trays (or equivalent). Tasks can be delegated throughout the whole class.

Students could make creatures such as frogs and birds from modelling clay (or equivalent) or from paper or cardboard. Alternatively, creatures could be bought from toyshops, museum shops or existing figurines borrowed or brought from home.

Creatures that are mentioned but not featured in the book (such as avocets) are optional.

Model 1 replicates the dry lake setting:

  • Students layer the base of the tray with sand.
  • They then bury model frogs and frogs’ eggs that will later float (made from plastic packaging, small polystyrene balls or equivalent) in the sand.
  • They place the salt crust from their prior experiment (see the activity on the previous tab: Literature) over the sand.
  • Next they place some stones around the edge and place dragon lizards underneath these as well as under the salt crust. They dig burrows on the edges for the mice (pages 18–19) as well.

Model 2 shows the wet lake setting:

  • Students layer the base of the second tray with sand, leaving higher sections around the edge and also in the middle to later form islands, and place salt crust on top.
  • They then pour fresh water over the sand to cover it, noting that this mixes with the salt crust to form salty water.
  • Underwater creatures: Place model frogs’ eggs in the water to float, followed by model tadpoles, gobies, shield shrimps and other water creatures from the book (pages 12–13, 22–23).
  • Land and above water creatures: Place pelicans, gulls, pink-eared ducks and their ducklings, avocets, swans, zebra finches, kites, wedge-tailed eagles and owls (pages 14–17,24–25) on the sand or water, or suspended from above with fishing line or cotton tread.
  • Place mice and dragon lizards on the sand or stones (pages 18–20).
  • Label the creatures.

Research and write about creatures

Students in pairs select one of the species living in or near Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, e.g. Australian pelicansWedge-tailed eaglesPink-eared ducksDragon lizardsWater-holding frogs. They read about the creature (and its life cycle if possible) in the book and from other sources such as Sand Swimmers: The Secret Life of Australia’s Dead Heart by Narelle Oliver (which looks at Australia’s inland desert and has a section on Lake Eyre).

Present this information as a multimedia, interactive poster using Glogster. This research will be used in the Creating section of this unit. 
(ACELY1704)   (EN3-2A)


Rich assessment task

Individually or in pairs, ask students to imagine that they are the creature they have researched.

They write its story from the creature’s point of view, writing about where it lives and what it does, thinks, fears and enjoys. They can base this on their non-fiction research, their imagination or a mixture of these.

Publish this as a Word document with a wide decorated border that represents the creature’s habitat.

Alternatively, present all the stories on a large backdrop of the desert lake.
(ACELT1612)   (EN3-2A)

Examining text structure and organisation

Desert Lake Illustrations

The illustrations in Desert Lake are particularly notable for their colours, texture and composition.

These will be examined below:


Have students look at the colour, texture and composition of the endpapers.

Ask what objects and prints might be shown in the endpapers and invite students to try to identify these.

Students can also try to predict what materials and process the illustrator used to create the endpapers.

The illustrator, Liz Anelli, explains that she used the technique of monoprinting with reddish brown ink for the endpapers. First she rolled the ink onto a metal sheet and then she placed small textured objects such as leaves, tiny bits of cotton, dust, and twigs on top of the inked sheet. In parts of the composition she removed some ink – scratching with a twig or rolling the side of a cotton reel against the sheet. Then she put a sheet of thin paper over the top and passed it through a printer’s press.

Students will use a simpler form of monoprinting based on the illustrator’s process in the Creating section of this unit.

Collage Creatures

As well as other techniques, the illustrator used collage to create the birds, insects and other creatures, and for seeds and leaves. In particular, she sourced images, patterns and colours from fashion magazines. She carefully cut magazine and printmade collage and stuck it onto her compositions. This collage creates the distinctive feathers, skin, scales and fur. The pelican wings on pages 14–15, for example, took days and were made from black and grey deckling paper – paper with rough-cut edges – and butchers’ paper with almost dried ink rolled onto it.

Students will make collage creatures based on the illustrator’s process in an activity in the Creating section of this unit.

Page Composition

Most of the illustrations are double-page spreads.

Students consider:

  • What does this achieve?
  • When is a single-page spread used? Why?
  • What is the effect of this?

Liz Anelli explains that Desert Lake had an interesting history in that both she and author Pamela Freeman had to start over from the beginning half way through the schedule. They were at the final roughs stage when their editors, after considering long and hard, decided the original story was too much about pelicans – it had followed one chick’s life story.

The re-write put the lake itself and the environment as the central characters, rather than one specific creature. This called for a dramatic compositional change: with the landscape now being central, single spreads no longer made sense.

The exception is the one instance on pages 20–21 where a change of pace was needed. The text says, ‘Day after day’ and later, ‘Each day’. A sense of time passing between the double page had to be created, hence the compositional break of single spreads.
(ACELT1610)   (EN3-3A)


Examining grammar and vocabulary

Two Text Types

Prompt students to identify the two text types (literary and non-fiction) in the book. The texts are shown in different fonts and sizes. Ask students to table examples of the two text types and identify specific features, vocabulary and language structure and style that are representative of the literary and non-fiction texts. Conclude by checking students understand that the different text types represent two different social purposes for writing (to entertain and describe).

Examples of literary texts are:

  • blinding white with the salt of an ancient sea;
  • And water swirls and roars down the empty riverbeds towards the lake.

If necessary help students see the emphasis on description, vivid vocabulary and even poetic style at times.

Examples of non-fiction texts are:

  • Below the lake bed, the frogs can sleep for many years.
  • They live off fat and water stored in their bodies.

Explain that giving relevant information clearly is paramount in this text type.

Refer students to the conventions of a non-fiction text that are included at the end of the book with a map, further information about Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre and an index.

Scientists and Poets

Separate the class into two groups: scientists and poets (representing the two text types). Then form small groups that include a mixture of scientists and poets, and a moderator for each group. The scientists and poets prepare 10 questions for the others in their small groups about their area of expertise.

For example, questions by scientists for poets could include:

  • What is most beautiful about Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre?
  • What treasure are you seeking at Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre?
  • What experience do you hope to have at Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre?

Questions by poets for scientists could include:

  • How does the salt crust form?
  • Where does the water come from to fill the lake?
  • Name and give a characteristic of five bird species seen at Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.

Scientists and poets can take it in turns to answer a question, or their team can answer.

Invite students read other books from the Nature Storybook series e.g. Emu by Claire Saxby and Graham Byrne. The resources section (to access, click the More Resources tab below) has an extensive list of Australian titles in this series. Compare and contrast the subjects, environment and writing and illustrative styles.

Optional: In pairs, ask students to do further research and write a paragraph about an Australian animal or other creature not from Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre to demonstrate their facility to write in both these text types. This task is a precursor to the Rich assessment task in the Creating section of this unit and will clarify students are writing to describe or entertain (informational or literary texts).
(ACELY1701)   (EN3-3A)


Rich assessment task

Book Awards

Ask students to identify book awards that Desert Lake has been shortlisted and longlisted for e.g. NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, NSW Premier’s History Awards, Environment Award for Children’s Literature, Children’s Book Council of Australia Award.

Optional: Teacher or students find the criteria for these awards on the relevant awards websites.

The teacher supplies other fiction and narrative non-fiction books in picture book form that have won or been shortlisted or longlisted for any of the same awards such as:

  • Dingo by Claire Saxby and Tannya Harricks
  • Home by Narelle Oliver
  • The All New Must Have Orange 430 by Michael Speechley
  • Bouncing Back: An Eastern Barred Bandicoot Story by Rohan Cleave and Coral Tulloch.

Note that other titles can be easily found on awards websites.

Students read and view these books to discover which attributes Desert Lake and the others have that have resulted in them being distinguished in this way.

Students then orally persuade classmates as to why these books deserve to have been awarded.
(ACELY1699)   (EN3-8D)

Enrichment: Judges’ Reports and Wiki

Students read judges’ reports on the awarded books (above) from relevant websites then write their own report on a book they consider deserving.

Include plot synopsis or focus of the book, and discussion of the following where appropriate: characterisation, point of view, setting, writing style or tone and a final evaluation.

For example, Joy Lawn’s judge’s report on Desert Lake is at the NSW Premier’s Literary Award website.

Publish these on a class wiki to form a resource about awarded picture books.

Writing and illustrating in the styles of Desert Lake

Students have been reading literary and non-fiction texts in narrative non-fiction picture books as modelled in Desert Lake and other resources such as the Nature Storybooks series.

Many of these are award-winning books.

Students have practised writing literary and non-fiction texts, mainly in pairs.

They have researched and written about creatures at Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre and elsewhere in Australia.

Individually they now will craft and polish a piece of writing and illustration about one creature that lives in or near Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.

Literary Writing 

Have students use Desert Lake and the writing already completed as scaffolding to write short pieces of polished literary text about one creature at Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre. This will ideally be the creature they have already researched. The number of writing pieces will be determined by time.

Students should aspire to reach, as closely as possible, the quality of Pamela Freeman’s writing in Desert Lake. To achieve this, brainstorm success criteria before beginning.

Some words can be highlighted in bold and larger font, as in Desert Lake.

Non-fiction Writing

As in the previous exercise, students use prior research and writing already completed as scaffolding to write a number of short pieces of polished non-fiction text about the same creature (also written about in literary style) that can be found at Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.

Illustrations using Monoprinting

Liz Anelli, the illustrator, has used the technique of monoprinting to create the endpapers of Desert Lake (See the Examining section for more information).

Ask students to use desktop monoprinting to print the thin cardboard that forms the top layer of the Lift-the-Flap construction to be undertaken in Rich Assessment task below. The process is explained on the website, Childhood 101.

The materials needed for desktop monoprinting include desktops, masking tape, paper, ink (ideally reddish-brown) and brayers (rollers) and assorted materials such as leaves, twigs and dust, and possibly a cotton reel and sticks to scratch off some ink. Aluminium foil placed underneath saves some mess.


Students outline their same chosen creature (as used in the previous activities) on paper using pencil and experiment with adding textures from collage materials (refer to activities in the Examining section).
(ACELA1504)   (EN3-7C)

These learning experiences will be used for the Rich Assessment task below.


Rich assessment task

Publishing Writing and Illustration using a Lift-the-Flap Construction

As a culmination to this unit of work on Desert Lake, students publish their writing about one creature that lives in or near Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre (see above).

Each student will publish their work as a lift-the-flap construction.

This will resemble an advent calendar, but it will be placed horizontally on a table, bench or the floor.

They will also use the illustrative techniques discovered in the activities in the Examining section of this unit and practised above.

Materials and procedure 

Each student uses a piece of thick cardboard or other board as a horizontal base.

They place a piece of thinner cardboard over the base.

Base layer

Students copy their polished pieces of literary and non-fiction writing onto the base board in their own personal, neat handwriting style. These need to be written directly onto the base board, positioned with space between each so that flaps can be cut out above them.

The literary text will feature key words in larger, bold font.

The non-fiction text will be written in smaller font.

They will also illustrate the creature they have written about by outlining it directly onto the base layer and gluing collage materials onto it (see Liz Anelli’s procedure as described in the Examining section and as practised above). Details such as eyes or beaks can be added in pen or pencil. The illustration will need to be of a size that can be covered with a flap.

Top layer 

Students mark with a pencil and then cut flaps into the top layer so that, when they are opened, the writing (and also the illustration of their creature) can be viewed underneath.

They also illustrate the top layer of cardboard in the monoprint style of the endpapers shown in the book and from Liz Anelli’s procedure as described in the Examining section and practised above. This will represent one aspect of the desert lake or its surrounds.

When complete, students secure the top layer of cardboard to the bottom base.
(ACELT1798)   (EN3-2A)   (ACELY1701)   (EN3-3A)

Classmates can appreciate the aesthetic qualities of this lift-the-flap construction and enjoy lifting the flaps to read the writing underneath and vicariously recreate some of the experience of visiting and understanding Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.